Aquis Great Barrier Reef resort – Saviour or Destroyer?

Currently, the media is in a frenzy over the Aquis Great Barrier Reef Resort, an $8 billion mega resort proposed to be constructed at Yorkeys Knob, Cairns. Although in the pre-approval stages, Aquis Great Barrier Reef Resort has had significant attention, proposing that through its existence, a revival of the Cairns economy is surely imminent, looking to bring thousands of new jobs and tourists to Cairns.

Comprising several resorts, a casino 2 casinos (from the latest plans released by Aquis), golf course, sports stadium, shopping centre, aquarium, theatres, convention centres and an abundance of other features, Aquis is being greeted by many Cairns residents as a shining beacon in times of economic uncertainty. However, accommodating these praises is a community of Cairns residents who are questioning the impacts that this resort will have on the economy, environment, lifestyle and infrastructure of Cairns.

With that in mind, we’ve consulted a substantial number of businesses and locals in Cairns and with their concerns in mind, have constructed a very different and challenging interpretation on what the Aquis Great Barrier Reef Resort could mean for Cairns.

Local businesses will inevitably suffer

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that when you centralise shopping, restaurants, entertainment, accommodation and an abundance of other industries and services into one facility that it will affect local businesses.
Where tourists would have ventured into town or to surrounding suburbs for entertainment and dining, after the construction of Aquis most would have a significantly reduced incentive or requirement to venture out of the complex.

What would this mean for local businesses? With the reduction in clientèle, it’s not hard to imagine what will happen. We will most probably see some small businesses either downsize or close altogether, displacing Cairns residents and leaving others unemployed. Maybe these are the people that Aquis is factoring in to employ?

This is a common outcome for a standard sized casino, let alone one the size of Aquis. Casinos are designed to keep people inside. The truth is casinos drain money out of an area into a far away bank account, most often never going back into the community.

Traffic and infrastructure

Cairns Northern Beaches (and Cairns in general) have been subject to explosive residential growth over the last few years. Regretfully, this growth has not been accommodated through aligning infrastructural development. To win the community over, Aquis Great Barrier Reef Resort proposes funding for an overpass linking to Caravonica and possibly raising and widening Yorkeys Knob Rd. These plans are all fantastic to mitigate the chances of non-access to and from the resort during flooding. However, they provide no assistance to reduce traffic.

This means Cairns residents on the Northern Beaches, who are already affected by several bottlenecks on the Captain Cook Highway, will experience substantial increases in traffic on an already insufficient and over-utilised Captain Cook Highway. What used to take 30 minutes to get into town during peak hour, now takes many Cairns residents over an hour and (with this developments half-hearted attempt to reduce congestion) will increase to a substantially longer commute. Goodbye lifestyle. Hello grid lock.

Lack of architectural harmony

When you throw the word “mega” into any sentence, it almost never implies subtlety and Aquis is no exception. Although labelled “innovative”, “modern” and even “breathtaking” by some, many now, after seeing the plans, refer to the resort as “intrusive”, “unnecessary” and “excessive”.

Defying Cairns’ standardised architectural style deriving from harmonious, subtle and non-intrusive designs, Aquis hopes to wow the community and tourists with superiority through magnitude.

With some areas of the development spanning over 80 metres high, Aquis will undoubtedly disturb what were spectacular mountain views from the ground, looming over Cairns residents. The sheer height implies the blatant ignorance of the developers as to why Cairns is such a popular tourist destination, suggesting they have no consideration at all in maintaining what is a universally harmonious and beautiful landscape.

The world won’t start pouring into Cairns because of a mega resort

Tourists, both domestic and international continue to choose Cairns as a top destination for a number of reasons. These are primarily centralised around the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. Tourists are not going to suddenly start pouring in because Cairns has a few more resorts, a second (and third) casino.

Tourists come to Cairns for the beauty, the slow pace, the subtleties and most importantly because it is unspoiled. Aquis is currently the proverbial stranger in the park offering kids candy, promising prosperity through extreme innovation and boasting unproven numbers and figures. Innovation comes in many shapes and sizes, yet fundamentals based on the argument that “bigger is better” are very often unsubstantiated and, when mismanaged, lead to unwanted implications.

A second Casino? Hang on! Three casinos?

Cairns has a casino, so why on earth would Cairns need another, let alone two more? There are cities substantially larger than Cairns in Australia that have no casino.

Casinos bring with them the same issues, regardless of where you are. Corruption, social issues and 24 hour traffic. Yorkeys Knob residents need to re-evaluate what the implications will be on the public’s perception of the suburb. It will change it forever and in the process, Yorkeys will lose its appeal for a majority of demographic groups.

Explosive population growth

If Aquis Great Barrier Reef Resort does get approved, Cairns residents will very likely bear witness to population growth significantly higher than its current 2-3% per year. Where will these people go? What infrastructural projects are being planned to accommodate this growth? What has the government committed to in regards to this increase in residents? Who thinks Cairns can sustain such growth?

The costs associated with widening roads to accommodate the growth have been estimated by the government to cost close to half a billion dollars. As we know, government runs projects and estimates like a dog’s breakfast, so Cairns would most likely be looking at a billion dollar plus road upgrade just to sustain Aquis. Where is the money going to come from? We ask the question as the Queensland government is currently privatising infrastructure to get some money back into their coffers. Why? Well, they are broke. So who will be paying for the billions of dollars required to provide the infrastructure? Australians.

Floodplain issues

There are big concerns in relation to developing such an excessive facility in a zone notorious for flooding and severely damaging storm tide surge. Many academics at the James Cook University are currently raising issues that have so far, been swept under the rug in hope of residential compliance. Development in this zone also raises issues in regards to damage that the reef will sustain from foreign and possibly toxic pollutants entering the waterways.

It is obvious that the Environmental Impact Statement (which is prepared by Aquis funded contractors) will have a positive spin to their policies in relation to risk mitigation. If you read the EIS (not many did) people noted just how little evidence was submitted to deal with the flood prone Barron River (which sits right on the doorstep of Aquis).

Lack of local economic diversification

Cairns’ economy is heavily dependent on tourism. Many residents have seen multiple businesses struggle after the GFC, many still struggling years after. Why would Cairns residents dig their economy into a deeper hole, even more reliant on the tourism industry than ever?

With great leadership and direction, Cairns has the potential to build new sustainable industries not reliant on the tourism industry, creating a buffer when the tourism tap turns off. What happens in a global economic downturn, or a Chinese economic downturn?

Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!

Without a business plan, Aquis have decided to woo the public with the promises of jobs. Jobs for everyone! Jobs in construction and jobs in the casino and resort once operational! Yay! Yet… construction jobs for Aquis will not go to many Cairns businesses. Large sized corporations will snap up the contracts as they have the skills and manpower to take on such a project. This also brings another interesting discussion to the table.

If jobs aplenty are proposed for the Cairns community to entertain and service the supposed massive influx of Chinese tourists (where they will come from who knows?) won’t they be required to be fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese, as well as culturally experienced? Even without a business plan, it’s plain as day to see that 457 Visas will very likely comprise a large portion of the Aquis workforce, especially now with regards to the new Free Trade Agreement which can be read here.

Jobs that are available to Cairns residents will be low paying. This is the standard workforce that Aquis will be hiring. Low paying jobs are still jobs right? These low paying jobs will barely pay the rent once Cairns rental prices rise up after Aquis is operational. Why? With a projection of 90,000 additional Cairns residents to the region, accommodation will likely be in short supply, hiking up rental prices and forcing many that live in the region to pack up and move away.

Don’t hold your breath in speculation of real estate moving the way Cairns real estate agents are playing it up though. Foreign developers are catching onto the requirement for housing as we are starting to see them move into Cairns CBD. One such example is Central Park Cairns. Sounds lovely hey? The name is really where it ends though when it comes to pleasantries. With an average unit size sitting at 55.25 square metres, these apartments will be so small that they make Singapore’s standards (with requirements of a minimum average apartment size of 70 square metres) appear lax. Preparation for housing the Aquis workforce may have already begun.

The exploitation of Chinese cultural regiment

The Chinese culture is ancient. Considerably older than the 200 plus years of Australian history, China has significantly different cultural values and traditions. A huge cultural difference is regimented control.

Chinese tourists that are visiting Cairns are often told where and when to go. Regimentation is very common in a Chinese tourist’s holiday. In fact, to the point that if there are tours planned and issues like weather dictate the tour’s/day’s cancellation, they are often instructed to stay in their rooms. What does this mean if Aquis is developed?

Aquis Great Barrier Reef Resort could very easily hold a monopoly on what, where, when and who Chinese tourists decide to spend their money on when visiting Cairns.

The Aquis project and methods of community interaction are questionable

At the moment, Tony Fung is looking for investors in China. Yes, that’s right. Tony does not have the money to fund the project, so he is currently looking for investors to foot the bill for his dream of a tropical gambling haven, right here in Cairns. With no business plan and no real substance at all to his project, Tony Fung at the moment is all about the “wow” factor.

10,000 jobs for the region after development with no confirmation of how many will go to residents of Australia is troubling. Why haven’t Aquis released the percentages?

Accompanying the cheer squad of business leaders and local government members, we are also now seeing a revoked stance on open discussions from Aquis. Community groups (like Aquis Aware) that are asking valid questions in relation to the development are now being ignored and berated through attacks in the media and our local government members. What has happened to this open door policy? Where is the transparency? Why are concerned residents being ignored and verbally attacked? Why was there no public consultation after the release of the EIS from the local council as promised? Something is fundamentally wrong with the Aquis project.

Many have also had issues trying to find any information whatsoever in regards to Tony Fung’s “self proclaimed” billionaire status, unable to find him in any billionaire lists around the world. This makes sense, as Tony initiated a strong marketing campaign in China seeking investors for the Goliath, ever-changing project, which is now not one but two additional casinos. The stadium is now scrapped, the concept of the water park was scrapped and by the end of construction it is most likely just going to end up being a casino with accommodation.

Who is funding the project?

Many Cairns residents are under the impression that Aquis will be funded by Tony Fung himself. Wrong. Tony Fung is looking for investors and he has one that is lining up to be the primary investor. Chinese state owned company China Poly Group (who have maintained a relationship with Tony Fung for over 20 years) are moving in to invest in this massive project. CPG not only have old ties with the People’s Liberation Army, they also own a subsidiary company called Poly Technologies. Poly Technologies is considered to be China’s largest weapons dealer and has recently drawn attention from the US State Department and Amnesty International for supplying weapons to Iran, Syria and North Korea. At least Cairns residents and Australians now know where the profits will be going into, feeding the war efforts of Islamic fundamentalists and the North Korean government, known for its atrocious human rights, brutality, torture and executions. Read the article here (before it gets removed).

Warning from Tourism Exchange delegates

Recently, Cairns was host to a collection of tourism industry delegates from around the world. What was surprising was their disbelief and concern about the proposed Aquis project.

UK product manager Esther Ward warned it had the potential to turn off some of the tourists who were primarily drawn to the region by its natural beauty.

“Cairns still has a small-town attraction.”

Dutch tour operator Monique van Oosten said she was surprised by the sheer size of the development.

“I’m wondering how they would fill the hotels,” she said.

“It looks like it will have a lot of impact on the city.”

UK-based tour operator James Burdall stated “People come here to relax and having all this extra traffic might spoil its appeal.”

These statements made by tourism delegates visiting the region have considerable weight if you checked the numbers. If Aquis is built, not only will Cairns have more hotel rooms than Brisbane, it will nearly be on par with Melbourne.

Government attempts at fast tracking the development

If you have read any news about Aquis, you would have come across the fact that local members of government are trying to speed up the approval process for the project. Not only is this reckless, it’s downright absurd. A development of such magnitude will have significant impacts on not only the ecology of the area, but also the lifestyle of Cairns residents.

If Aquis does go ahead, the development needs to be analysed thoroughly from top to bottom. Attempts at fast tracking is troublesome. What is also concerning is that groups such as Aquis Aware (that are asking very important questions about Aquis) are being ignored and labelled as “anti-progress”, where when you step back you see a different story. They have genuine concern for the people of Cairns.

Another issue of note is the fact that local government members and spruikers are backing the project without even seeing a business plan. How is it actually possible to back a project when you know nothing of it? The answer is simple. You can’t… and if you do, you’re effectively undermining any professional credibility you once had. People are starting to engage in this scenario and speculate as to what is really going on here.

Aquis Aware and the people of Cairns

It’s of no surprise that there are a growing number of residents in the region that are against the current development plan and for a good reason. They know what a development of this size means for Cairns. Not only will it drain the CBD of tourist traffic and trade, it will also put an immeasurable amount of pressure on infrastructure and resources. Bad for the economy and bad for the people. However the people of Cairns have banded together to come up with a solution.

Compiled by town planners and architects, this new design and location proposal is not only inventive and innovative, it is also sustainable, practical and will bring fantastic benefits to the economy.

Aquis Aware spokesman Dennis Walls made a statement about the new design. “Rather than suck the oxygen and life out of Cairns and put it on a cane farm on a flood plain at Yorkeys Knob, we’re suggesting we enhance the CBD. It’s about revitalising Cairns.”

The new innovative design is a true display of the talent and forward thinking that Cairns residents posses. No surprise though. People of the region are notorious for their resilience and strength. We only wish that the team at Aquis could have come up such a concept first, instead of designing a disproportionately oversized mega structure that was designed to drain the economy and infrastructure of surrounding regions.

To read more about the proposal you can read the (sorry folks this link has been pulled) Cairns Post article or check it out on the Aquis Aware site.

EIS Social Impacts

If you had the opportunity to read the EIS, you would have seen some eye opening forecasts for Cairns, with high to severe impacts predicted on health services, infrastructure, traffic and lifestyle. Cairns is normally at the bottom of the list when it comes to state funding so don’t hold your breath and anticipate the Australian government to provide the billions of dollars required to sustain Aquis.

The choice is yours…

Cairns residents need to think long and hard about the proposed Aquis Great Barrier Reef Resort. Cairns is now growing at a steady rate and has continued to maintain its allure and harmony with its surrounding environments, ensuring it remains a competitive holiday destination for years to come. Residents need to ask themselves, is this really what Cairns needs?



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Aquis Great Barrier Reef Resort – Saviour or Destroyer?